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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Museum of Art Takes the ‘A’ Train with Harlem Quartet

Monday's chamber music concert promises to be a work of art by a supernova of performers

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is in the middle of a very interesting series of chamber music concerts. The ensembles seem to have been chosen, at least in part, for their geographical and cultural diversity.

Last month we had Israel’s Ariel String Quartet. On Wednesday, we will hear Poland’s Szymanowski Quartet. And coming right up, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, in the Mary Craig Auditorium, SBMA will present the supernova Harlem Quartet (Ilmar Gavilan and Melissa White, violins; Juan-Miguel Hernandez, viola; Desmond Neysmith, cello).

This quartet, already garnering adjectives like “innovative” and “daring,” is ever so discretely dedicated to promoting diversity in classical music, and to brilliantly performing both the standard quartet literature and works by composers less well-known, especially composers of one minority or another. Their program at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art illustrates the quartet’s mission perfectly. In addition to performing pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven (“String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Opus18”) and bicentennial boy Robert Schumann (“String Quartet in A Major, Opus 41, No. 3”), they will also play “La Oración del Torero” (“The Bullfighter’s Prayer”) by Joaquín Turina and “Take the ‘A’ Train” by Billy Strayhorn (arranged by Paul Chihara).

Turina (1882-1949) was a Spanish composer, a younger contemporary of Enrique Granados and Manuel De Falla. He was a 20th-century romantic, not of the gloomy Russian style, but more like Samuel Barber or Gian Carlo Menotti, with more than a little Joseph-Maurice Ravel thrown in. I haven’t heard much of his music, but what I have heard I like very much. He wrote “La Oración” originally for a quartet of lutes, then transcribed it for string quartet, then for string orchestra.

Strayhorn (1915-1967) was an American, of course, and rightly famous for his 25-year collaboration with Duke Ellington. Strayhorn’s original intention was to write classical music, but he soon discovered that there wasn’t much room for a composer — or even a musician — of black descent in the classical music world of the 1930s. He turned to jazz and met Ellington when the Duke’s orchestra played in Pittsburgh in 1938. He took apart some of Ellington’s arrangements and put them back together as he thought they ought to be done. Ellington was impressed, brought him into the band, and together they made history.

“Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine,” Ellington famously said.

Admission to the Harlem Quartet is $19 for the general public, $15 for SBMA members. To purchase tickets, stop by the visitor services desks at the museum, 1130 State St., or call 805.884.6423.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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